MiCoFe: Changing The World One Cup Of Coffee At A Time

Every year, the Social Impact Award supports hundreds of young people from all over Europe, Central Asia, and East Africa, dreaming of better societies. This year the Social Impact Award falls under the scope of the Collaborate for Impact program, financed by the European Union and implemented by EVPA in partnership with Impact Hub Yerevan in Armenia! This year Armenia had 9 SIA finalists who competed for the prize of EUR 1,500. 

But who was the team that had what it took to impress the judges and score the cash prize? Introducing MiCoFe, an ACBA Federation 1-year Fellowship Program participating project that is making waves in the agriculture industry! 

How? By trying to tackle two birds with one stone, (1) reducing the amount of waste that is generated every day, (2) producing an organic fertilizer using microbes from different regions in Armenia as an alternative to the hazardous chemical ones. 

The MiCoFe team actually met while working at the Yerevan State University Faculty of Biology, Microbial Biotechnologies, and Biofuel Innovation Center. These microbiologists were led by their supervisor Karen Trchunyan, however, MiCoFe was founded in 2020, soon after the pandemic by Liana Vanyan. 

SIA Winner MiCoFe

So what exactly did they discover? Well, after much research and experimentation, it turns out that the coffee grounds left over from brewing our favorite morning pick-me-up make for a great fertilizer. Just grow some good microbes in what would otherwise be considered waste, and you’ve got yourself a complex bio-x that can be used to fertilize all kinds of vegetables, organically! 

Right now, their fertilizer is in the Alpha testing stage, but signs are pointing to success, as they’ve managed to achieve seed germination and have noticed a positive effect on different sorts of cucumbers and tomatoes. 

So what does that mean for the environment? Well, on the one hand, coffee ground waste is more harmful to the environment than many realize. Not only does it make the soil more acidic, creating acidic leachate in landfills that damage the surrounding soil, but in the process of decomposing, coffee waste in landfills also generates greenhouse gases. 

On the other hand, chemical fertilizers are hazardous and can have all kinds of harmful effects on humans, livestock, water and the soil. While they are more affordable, they come at a much greater cost to the environment and our health. 

To top it off, MiCoFe’s approach differs from other organic fertilizers, as they implement the usage of microbes, a feature that many other organic fertilizers don’t have.

MiCoFe 2

What started off as simply a research product grew into a full scientific enterprise. In 2021, the MiCoFe team participated in Green Agritech Startup Clash, where they presented their project for the first time and won the competition! It was then that they were noticed by the ACBA Federation, and were encouraged to apply for the ACBA Federation Fellowship program at Impact Hub Yerevan.

As fellows, they were able to gain connections within the extended network and began collaborating with partners and eco-greenhouses so that they could further test their products and experiment with the germination of cucumber seeds!

The MiCoFe team was on a roll, and it’s a good thing, as science is not cheap! After winning at Green Agritech Startup Clash, they were able to purchase a 12,500 EUR machine that allowed them to analyze the soil quality and understand how much nitrogen and protein it contained, giving further insight into the microbial.

Last year, MiCoFe learned about the Social Impact Award via Impact Hub Yerevan’s network and once again, came out on top as winners of the 1500 EUR prize. Of course, during the span of the Social Impact Award, the MiCoFe team was introduced to many different contacts and have already begun new collaborations with them! 

Soon after, Liana had the opportunity to go to Poland to train on how to use the machine. 

The team then moved on to win a prize of $3,000 at the “best tech solutions in non-tech industries” idea competition by the Enterprise Incubator Foundation. 

“Next year we will be able to work with them to see how our products work with corn,” said Liana, “We are going to have a new machine in two months, to measure metal ions in the soil.” 

Collaborating with greenhouse operators has been a real time-saver for the team. To see the results of an experiment in the field of agriculture, you need to wait for the entire cycle of plant growth in order to test the products and see results. Conducting these experiments in eco-greenhouses, allows them to make use of the winter months as well!

MiCoFe is working hard to make some big splashes in the future, with their eyes set on goals for commercializing their final product. 

MiCoFe

“In 2022 we want to finish the testing stage, have concrete results, and move into the commercialization stage,” said Liana excitedly. “Once we have a product that can be taken to the market, not only will we be able to sell it, but we will finally be able to see its practical usage!” 

And of course, from a scientific perspective, they will be able to present their findings to the international community and publish their work and findings.

Already, steps are being taken to test their products on a variety of different plants and vegetables in a field using different sorts of seeds and microbes.

Once they have a viable and commercialized product, they intend to target the Armenian market and eventually, if they find success, push to explore the international market as well. 

In the meantime, they hope that their work will at the very least raise awareness about alternative solutions that are much more healthy both for humans and the environment, and that also help reduce waste. In this way, society as a whole will become a lot more conscious as they enjoy their daily cup of coffee.

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